There’s no set formula when it comes to writing a screenplay that transcends the slush pile. Believable dialogue is crucial, but nothing without a well-established mise en scène – a balancing act regardless of subject matter. But that didn’t keep The Post cowriter Liz Hannah from biting off one of the meatiest moments in political and journalistic history – the decision by Washington Post to publish the Pentagon Papers in 1971 – as a barely-30 rookie scribe writing on spec.
Hannah’s ambition paid off. In what is now a BTS Hollywood fairytale, her script went from the The Black List, an online forum for aspiring writers, to the hands of former Sony Pictures chair Amy Pascal, who bought it on sight. From there, Steven Spielberg got attached, followed by Meryl Streep as Post publisher Katherine Graham and Tom Hanks as executive editor Ben Bradlee.
Despite having little in common with her protagonists – two Washingtonian society fixtures in their mid-fifties – Hannah was inspired by Graham’s story after reading her memoir Personal History. While largely omitted from more mainstream accounts like the 1976 film All the President’s Men, Graham played a key role in the disclosures of both the Pentagon Papers, which contained classified details about the Vietnam War, and the Watergate conspiracy that led to Richard Nixon’s resignation. “Luckily, there are many books and documentaries about D.C. during this time,” says Hannah, who hadn’t spent much time in the Capitol before Post. “I’ve been a few times, but I’ve never spent a significant amount of time there,” she adds.
While she doesn’t shy away from heart-racing political scandal on the page, Hannah prefers to be far removed from the hardboiled drama of Washington. “Coming from New York, L.A. is kind of a cakewalk,” says Hannah, who moved to the West Coast to study at the American Film Institute. “I generally like to write from home so luckily it’s quiet for the most part.”
Before The Post opens this weekend, we asked Hannah to spill her secrets to life in Los Angeles.
Cup of Joe: Sycamore Kitchen!
Power Lunch: Sugarfish.
Cocktail Hour: Melrose Umbrella Company. Start with a latté, finish with the Mezcali Me Banana.
Retail Therapy: Sadly because I’m a writer it’s usually Amazon.com.
Field Trip: LACMA.
Date Night: Petty Cash Taqueria
Don’t Miss: Griffith Observatory.
Hidden Gem: Wattles Mansion is a gorgeous public park and house around the corner from Runyon Canyon where I got married earlier this year.